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A top time for Tassie toothies
  |  First Published: December 2014



I think I may have to give up on giving weather info at the start of these articles. I talked November up heaps last month and those that can remember the first week in November won’t have a lot favourable things to say.

The annual Northern Tasmanian pilgrimage to the states coastlines and lakes areas was hampered somewhat by some atrocious weather.

The opening of the striped trumpeter and cray fish season saw massive seas and heavy winds. The anglers that saw the long weekend as an opportunity to head up to the highlands for some fine spring weather… well, let’s just say they took some amazing snow pictures, which were very pretty. Testament to the Tasmanian anglers’ intestinal fortitude and their will to fish, there were some fish harvested, and the weather improved as November wore on.

THE SUN MUST COMe

It’s all about the daylight in December. December in Tasmania is second only to January for mean daylight hours so get out and make the most of it. We as Tasmanians love daylight savings and as such often find ourselves out quite late coming home or packing up from some grand adventure we have managed to pack into that space between sun up and sun down.

The season was very interesting last year. It started in fits and bursts and never really took off at any time. The mako fishing off Bass Strait was slow, but already this year the bait about is very promising.

The East Coast had a sensational year and it seemed that the bait they were following down the Eastern seaboard didn’t turn right into the Strait and went down past St Helens and Bicheno. It was not uncommon to have multiple shark around the boat while out berleying. I spoke to a number of crews that had double figures around the boat of good size makos and blue sharks. Blue sharks are a bit of a trap for the young player as they look very much like a mako when they first arrive. This is even more so if it has been 3 hours since you have started your trail and have not seen anything. At that point of all sorts of hallucinations, you are trying to see a mako swimming up the trail or under the boat.

A keen eye will spot the differences between a blue and a mako. The blue has a totally different mouth with a sad looking face and different teeth. You won’t see this at first unless they start to gnaw on your berley buckets. The best thing to look out for is the more rounded nose, slender looking appearance for size and really long pectoral fins. A mako has a much more aggressive mouth and teeth, a more pointed head and shorter snout. A mako will also tend to move much quicker. Blue sharks are fine to catch and tag and release and someone, somewhere may have a recipe to make one taste and cook OK. I am yet to meet that person.

MAKOS

December is the time to start thinking about it. Thinking about the gear and equipment needed to catch one of the most exciting fish Tasmanian anglers could hope to catch. A good size mako that is in great condition will give the well prepared angler a lot of information to store in the memory banks. Screaming runs leaving the ratchets on reels singing, athletic and powerful jumps that quite often turn into big cart wheels are all part of mako fishing. A nice mako will also go deep and put some serious hurt on an angler.

Having tackle in great condition is a must. The tackle does not necessarily need to be a traditional overhead game fishing reel. Bigger well-made spinning reels are up to the job with mako sharks under the 120kg range. The Conflict 8000 is one such reel. The new eggbeater from Penn is a dead-set cracker. The Conflict’s full metal body construction allows it to maintain precision gear alignment under severe punishment while its balanced rotor ensures a smooth retrieve. The Conflict 8000 will handle 15kg of drag, which is more than enough to tire mako and angler.

Berley

The biggest key ingredient here is berley. Berley needs to be plentiful and frozen down in a manner that makes it easy to get from the esky into the water column. There are a number of ways to get this done. If you purchase your berley in the popular log form, get to a tackle store and buy a few inexpensive green cord net refills. These are awesome to slide the logs in and have 2 out at all times. If you have 2 berley pots out at one time make sure you stagger them and have them in different states of defrost. It’s a little thing, but changing both berley supplies at once can lead to a break in the berley trail. You don’t want that.

Once you have a good supply of berley, you can turn your attention to where to start to lay a trail. If you have the ability to hit the shelf in Tasmania while chasing makos, then I would be doing that in a heartbeat. The shelf will be home to all manner of pelagics and other food a big strong mako will be looking to eat. If you are going to try in Bass Strait or just don’t want to head to the shelf, find the deepest water you can get to. I only say this because it maximises your chances.

Cubes

Cubes are another feather in the cap of the keen mako shark fisher. If you are in shallow water then you can ease up on the cubes and a couple of ‘plops’ every few minutes will suffice. If you are on the shelf with a massive amount of water column to penetrate then you can increase the amount and speed you dribble them away. It is important to remember that cubes are to be used sparingly so to draw the hungry mako to the boat and baits. You don’t want them laying back like some Christmas Day smorgasbord and ignoring your baits.

Baits

What to use as bait? If you were to have a few Australian salmon, squid and mullet ready to go, you won’t go far wrong. I have also seen some whole bonito available in tackle stores that look the business as well. When rigging up your baits, no matter what you choose, don’t be scared to have the hook point showing to allow good hook up rates. Little cable ties are gold to help secure baits to big hooks and allowing plenty of hook gape and point to be free.

There is some conjecture around putting balloons out the back of the boat with baits suspended or keeping your powder dry and summing up the shark size to see what you put out. Both ideas have their pros and cons. In a competition sense, it sometimes pays to see what you are dealing with and make some decisions on the go as to whether you are going to tag or weigh a fish on a certain line class. If you are looking to just put some quality eating flesh in the freezer then having two balloons out at varying depths and one unweighted down deep can be very exciting. I would say the choice is up to you.

Saftey

You have heard me mention these items before, but they are worth mentioning again.

Never fight a mako from a dead boat. Always fire up the engines and move slowly away as you set the hook. Makos love to do cart wheels and if they have hands… probably hand stands as well. What you don’t want is 80kg or more of disgruntled muscle and teeth in the same vicinity as your feet, legs and groin!

If you are taking a mako for the table, play the shark extensively and tire them out. If you try to harvest the shark too early while the shark is still green, you will have on your hands, a good old fashioned Hollywood Western bar room brawl. The only difference is, one will be yelling “CUT” when you have had enough.

The weather will have you keen to get out and try your luck, so as December progresses and the water temperature rises, so does your chances of finding some good mako sharks.

St Helens

I was in St Helens recently and it was a sensational day. It is so easy to see why I love the place. Central to Tasmania’s East Coast, it is home to some of the best fishing across a great range of species and types of fishing. Land-based or with a boat of any kind there is something for the angler at St Helens.

St Helens also boasts a fantastic tackle store run by Jamie Henderson. Jamie has an immense passion for the area and has considerable knowledge of what makes the fish tick in the area and when! I was lucky enough to catch up with him and get some good oil on the local area. I asked him how the fishing had been going in the area. He said the stripey trumpeter have had a couple of months rest from angling pressure and the fishing has really started off very well. A number of local anglers from up your way in the North have with many anglers reported some good catches. He says the favourite spots such as the Binalong Patch, the 14 Mile patch off Eddystone Point and areas down off Bicheno and Seymour have all produced fish. There has even been a handful of fish caught closer to home on Merricks Reef and the Gravel Patch.

I’m a fan of the Simrad and Lowrance products and with these becoming more widespread and people become quite skilled at using electronics; anglers are finding their own spots and taking some pressure off the very well known marks.

As always in December, the weather starts to stabilise a little better with more action offshore. Boat anglers are reporting good hauls of king flathead in 70-80m of water and appear to be similar to the big ones of last year.

The large Australian salmon are a staple nowadays. They are good fish of around 4-5lb and accessible from land and by boat. Up in the Moulting Bay area, boat anglers have been consistently catching good Australian salmon and some good tailor to around 2lb. Most of these fish have been caught using soft plastic lures the silver trevally are also hot on the bite and are being caught all over the bay. Squid have started to become hugely popular and there are some awesome spots to try here in St Helens.

The squid are showing up regularly at the moment and so are the King George whiting. They are both fantastic eating fish and take a little bit more searching to find but are well worth the effort. Casting squid jigs around the weed beds will produce the squid if they are in the area and small #2 Gamakatsu Bait Keeper hooks laced with a pipi and cast to the edge of the weed beds should produce the whiting as well.

Scamander River

Spring is known as the best months for bream fishing but the Scamander River won’t let you down in December either. It’s at this time of the year that can experience some very good bream fishing on the Scamander River, a mere 15 minute drive south of St Helens.

The bream spawn during the spring months and in early December are still in large numbers throughout the river system. They are hungry, ready for action and can be caught on bait, lures and fly. The river is easily accessed by small boat and in the lower reaches offers excellent shore-based fishing for those without a watercraft or with the family in tow.

The River

The Scamander River starts its life high in the hill country around 15km (in a straight line) northwest of the small coastal township of Scamander on the state’s East Coast. Here it is a small mountain stream, slowly winding its way down through the hills and valleys slowly building in size until it hits a series of small weirs, the last one approximately 6km from town. From here down, it’s prime bream country and although as the crow flies this point is only 5.8km’s from the coast, it offers over 12km of winding tidal river in which to fish.

As the river flows down towards the coast, it grows larger, deeper and wider all the time offering a wide variety of locations in which to fish. The upper half of the river is generally shallow with numerous small rock bars that flow into deeper holes and sheer rock walls. There are also plenty of fallen tree snags to play in, some even stretching almost right across the width of the river.

As you head further down river it gets progressively wider, the corners get deeper and the rock walls become larger, and there are still plenty of tree snags. From about mid river down there are also plenty of muddy shallow banks where the bream feed on small crabs and baitfish, these areas can put on some fantastic fishing at times.

The lower reaches of the river are where more of the shore-based fishing is done as it’s easily accessed by road and you can virtually pull up in your car and fish from your back seat. Here the river is quite wide with good rocky and muddy shoreline as well as deeper mid river sections and tends to favour the bait fisherman. In this lower region there are also a number of shallow mudflats that are covered with only a couple of feet of water at high tide and at times can be covered in hard fighting bream; these are only accessed by boat at high tide.

The river slowly flows down to the mouth and bar where it flows over the sand and out to sea, depending on the time of year and the amount of rain fall the bar can be open or closed up. At the bottom, it offers good sand flat and bridge pylon fishing.

The lower reaches of the river can be accessed right in the township of Scamander near the road bridges and there is a reasonable amount of shoreline for the land-based angler as well as two boat ramps. Just south of Scamander is the turnoff to the Upper Scamander Road, a short drive brings the road alongside the river and up to a small boat ramp and jetty. There is around 2km of easily accessed shoreline for land-based anglers and families to fish.

The fish

The southern black bream, or Acanthopagrus Butcheri, is probably one of the most common species in our waterways around Tasmania, particularly the East Coast, and is more than likely what most of us would have cut our teeth on as a youngster bait fishing the rivers and jetties with prawns and crabs as bait.

They seem to have a migratory pattern during late winter and head into the Scamander River to get ready to school up and do the spawn run once spring arrives where they slowly move up river in large schools until the water temperature, salinity, algal growth and moon phase all align and then they spawn en masse.

Southern black bream are opportunistic feeders and will consume a wide range of prey. The diet of the species varies between river and estuary systems, but in most systems in Tasmania, crustaceans make up a large portion of the breams’ diet. This includes crabs, prawns, types of shrimps and nippers as well as a number of polychaete and annelid worms. Other food items such as oysters, mussels and cockles are also consumed by bream and are crushed in the fish’s powerful jaws. Small fish such as gobies and anchovies, commonly referred to as ‘sardines’ or ‘prettyfish’ also feature highly on the breams’ diet.

Techniques, lures and baits

For the bait angler, the Scamander River offers a great variety of fishing situations. Anglers can choose to fish from either a boat or bank side.

Simple running sinker rigs are the norm with a size #2-1/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook and a small pea-sized ball sinker let run down to the hook the most successful method for bank fishers. Those targeting bream from a boat with bait should try and fish unweighted where possible and only use the smallest amount of lead for a casting weight. Baits can vary and it always pays to have a few different baits at hand, like prawns, mussels, pipis, oysters, whitebait, prettyfish (small baitfish), crabs and freshly pumped nippers from the mudflats. If there has been some rain and there is a little bit of runoff from the banks and drains, some garden worms can do the trick as the bream will swim about mopping these up as they are washed in from the paddocks.

If targeting the bream with soft plastics it is almost a necessity to fish from a boat as it makes finding areas of the river where schools of fish are congregated much easier. For the most part, much of the Scamander River has an abundance of fallen tree snags along its banks and sheer rock walls in between. The bream will sit around the snags and structure and along the face and the base of the rock walls. In these areas, a soft plastic lure in the 80-100mm size range rigged on a light 2g #4 head is ideal. Cast into the structure or at the face of the wall and let drop down, the action of the wriggler’s tail is irresistible to the bream. Let the lure sit on the bottom for a short while then a slow lift and drop retrieve back to the boat is all that is needed. The fish will either hit the plastic whilst it is on the drop or will grab it while it’s paused on the bottom. If the bream are seen to be close to the surface, which they will often be if the tide is moving and there is a bit of current moving through the structure, then change to a lighter head weight to keep the lure up in the strike zone for longer.

If fishing the rock bars, mud flats and shallow bank sides, the plastic lures will still work quite effectively, however I favour the hardbodied minnow lures for this type of fishing. A 40-60mm long suspending bibbed hardbody is ideal for fishing the shallow water, it can be cast into the shallows and at most will only dive to a depth of around 1m and suspend or float. They can be manipulated with the rod tip to keep them in the fishing zone for longer. A variety of retrieves can work and it’s a matter of experimenting on the day to find out which one will draw a strike from the bream. Sometime just a straight retrieve or ‘slow roll’ back to the boat works, other times a sweep with the rod tip to cause the lure to swim and then a long pause while it suspends will drive the bream wild. Other times an aggressive fast whipping like retrieve is needed to fire the fish up, grabbing their attention and causing them to strike at the lure. There are many lures on the market today and some are quite expensive, costing up to $30 a lure! I am a big believer in value for money so I don’t follow the school of thought that an expensive bream lure is better at catching fish.

Another technique and lure that is becoming more and more popular is the vibe style lures. These lures are generally used when targeting bream in deeper water and suspended schools of fish, however they are proving themselves as worthy flats weapons as well. The can be fished slowly or quickly, in mid water or on the bottom and can also be rolled slowly across shallow mudflats so it makes them very versatile lure.

Tackle

Tackle requirements will depend on whether you are targeting the bream with baits or soft plastics and lures. For bait anglers a good 7-8ft 2-5kg soft action rod is the norm, as it allows lightly weighted baits to be cast a good distance with light line. It also lets the fish pick up the bait and turn to swim away before the rod loads and sets the hook into the corner of the fish’s mouth and soaks up the lunges of big bream. Reels need to be around the 2500-4000 size and have a smooth drag; spooled with quality 6-8lb line and it will cover most scenarios.

Targeting bream on soft plastics and lures in the Scamander does require the use of some more specialised tackle, there is no need to break the bank but buy the best you can afford. Rods need to have the ability to cast lightly, and often unweighted plastics and lures accurately into very snaggy country. High modulus graphite rods of 6.5-7ft with quality guides suitable for braided line and small short butts are designed for this type of fishing. They offer light-weight casting accuracy over distance and incredible fish fighting power when you need to steer a good fish from heading back into a snag.

Reels need to be small and light, 1000-2500 sizes will be perfect and will hold more than enough line. Reels should be spooled with a light braided line between 3-6lb with a leader, usually fluorocarbon, tied on the end.

The new Lox rods from Lox International are without a doubt one of the better models on the market at the moment. At a retail price of around $300 they offer top end casting performance at a medium price bracket and are superbly constructed.

The Scamander River has a lot to offer all types of anglers, it’s great for the family with easy access and a huge population of bream, suits bait fishers as well as lure fishers and even handles hosting a number of bream tournaments and competitions over the course of the year. Don’t think if missing the spawning period you have missed out. December is still a great time to spend an afternoon on the river, especially on a nice calm day and will always produce a few fish for a feed if need be.

The next time you are on the East Coast during the next few months, take some time out and chuck a few rods in the car and stop off at the Scamander River, you might just be surprised.

The evening also allowed all anglers and club sponsors to get together and share their experience with product and services alike. The businesses that attended went away with some very valuable feedback and the angler’s inturn gained great insight as to why shopping local and having that knowledge and experience at their fingertips is worth its weight in gold.

Keep an eye out on the GFCNT’s facebook page at www.facebook.com/GameFishingClubOfNorthernTasmania

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